With warmer air and water temperatures, the Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) is urging residents to take simple precautions around untreated or poorly treated water to protect themselves and their loved ones from a very rare but serious infection.
Amoebic meningoencephalitis is an extremely rare brain infection caused by an amoeba that lives in warm, fresh water and soil.
While many people can have contact with the amoebas, only a small number develop serious illness.
SNSWLHD public health director Alison Nikitis said people shouldn't be alarmed by primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, but in summer months it did present a risk that can be avoided with some easy precautions.
"Every summer we remind communities that warm conditions that increase water temperatures mean any unchlorinated water supply that seasonally exceeds 30C or continually exceeds 25C may be a risk," Ms Nikitis said.
"Amoebic meningitis can occur if untreated water goes up someone's nose, so people should be careful when they are around unchlorinated water.
"Children and young people appear to be more susceptible than adults to this rare infection.
"The amoebas that cause primary amoebic meningoencephalitis live in warm, fresh water and soil, but the amoebas cannot survive in water that is clean, cool and adequately chlorinated.
"At particular risk are people in rural areas who have their own tank, dam or bore water supply, such as those living on farms, and people with poorly maintained swimming pools.
"For instance, shallow wading pools are particularly at risk if they have been left in the sun for a long time. Other places that can create an environment for the amoebas include lakes, rivers, dams, bores, tanks, garden hoses, natural hot springs, and spa and swimming pools that are poorly maintained," Ms Nikitis said.
The best way to avoid infection is:
- avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water or thermal pools;
- keep your head above water in spas, thermal pools and warm fresh water bodies;
- ensure swimming pools and spas are adequately chlorinated and well maintained;
- empty and clean small collapsible wading pools and let them dry in the sun after each use; and
- flush warm water from hoses before allowing children to play with hoses or sprinklers.
If you are using unchlorinated water:
- don't allow water to go up your nose when bathing, showering or washing your face; and
- supervise children playing with hoses or sprinklers and teach them not to squirt water up their nose.
Initial symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis start one to nine days after infection.
These may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.
Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.